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Hidden In Plain Sight: EMU Student-Athletes Hard At Work Building Community Bonds By Volunteering

When you hear the term “Student-Athlete,” we think about the full-out effort it takes to succeed in the classroom and on the field.  Those endeavors are easily recognized.  At Eastern Michigan University, the football team continues to improve on both fronts.  But, there are efforts the players are putting forth that aren’t quite as public. Many are making indelible marks on the wider community.  As 89.1 WEMU’s Jorge Avellan reports, that component in the life of a student-athlete is “Hidden in Plain Sight.” 

"Today were doing some demo on a house for Habitat for Humanity."

Twenty-two year-old Ian Eriksen is a running back for the Eagles.  He’s wearing a green hard hat with a prominent “E” logo, and he’s using a hammer to tear down a wall inside a vacant home in Ypsilanti Township.

Jorge: And this home is going to go to a family in need, how does that make you feel knowing that you and your teammates are going to provide a home to somebody who needs it?
Ian: It’s a really nice feeling because you’re not just doing blind work for any house. You’re doing it for someone who needs it and who would benefit from having it.

Eriksen is joined by 11 other players on the football team.  Most of them are almost as tall as the exposed ceiling beams that remain of the 1,000 square-foot home.  The house has been stripped down to its foundation and the guys are using hammers and crowbars to remove nails and drywall. 

But the team is not alone.

"Hey, who’s taking down the ceiling in here?"

That’s head coach Chris Creighton.  He too is equipped with tools and a hard hat.  With the encouragement of the coach and his teammates, 20 year-old Michael Van Hoeven uses a crowbar to break the ceiling of what use to be the bathroom.

"Big Mike will show you how to do it," said Coach Creighton.

"Big Mike" is 6.5 feet tall and weighs 295 pounds.  With a smile on his face, the offensive lineman says he feels proud when his teammates ask him for help.

"You just try to be the guy that can be there when anybody needs you… you can be there to do it," said Van Hoeven. 

Coach Creighton joined the EMU team in 2013.  Since then, one of his goals has been for his football players to give back to the community.

"Our guys are doing projects all year round.   They’ve done it now for four and half years.  So this isn’t anything new to them but is important.  I think there is team building, there is learning how to serve and then there is work to be done in the community.  There always is," said Creighton.

This Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley house will be renovated into a 3-bedroom, 1-bath home for a low-income family.  Karol Chubb is a spokesperson for the organization.

"This partnership with the EMU football team has gone above and beyond the expectations.  They’ve been a phenomenal community partner who has come in and they’re doing fundraisers to pay financially for these homes…to do these renovations as well as their attitude coming out and doing the community service to give back to a community," said Chubb.

Adjacent to the home where the football team is working is the Calvary Baptist Church on Ecorse Road.  Jim Newcomer is the senior pastor. 

"I didn’t know they were doing this house and I’m pretty excited about this.  Our church owns two houses behind our church facility here on the same road.  So anything going on to reinvest, beautify this area is very welcomed and I love hearing that it’s a whole bunch of athletes doing it," said Newcomer.

Back at the house, senior Ikie Calderon is glad to hear that community members, like Pastor Newcomer, support their work.

"We pride ourselves in doing things off the field, family, community, building relationships with people outside of the people that we see every day at the football facility.  Anytime that we can do stuff like that, we are going to take it on head first," said Calderon.

When they’re wearing helmets and playing tough on the football field at Rynearson Stadium, it’s easy to recognize the team's effort and contribution. But, they also wear their hearts on their sleeves out in the community, including at a Habitat for Humanity build.  That kind of effort may be even more meaningful, but for the most part, it's Hidden in Plain Sight.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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